Non-breakaway Lifeline cords the cause of Ponoka senior’s death, report shows

The untimely death of Ponoka senior Elizabeth Bell in February 2013, which was caused by the lifesaving device

The untimely death of Ponoka senior Elizabeth Bell in February 2013, which was caused by the lifesaving device around her neck, has forced the company delivering its service to look at using only breakaway cords.

Bell was accidentally asphyxiated by her Philips Lifeline lanyard, which became entangled in her walker, and the resulting inquiry into her death by Judge Bart Rosborough gives strong recommendation to replace all Lifeline lanyards to breakaway cords.

Ponoka Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) administers home care with Alberta Health Services and also works with Philips Lifeline to distribute either the Lifeline lanyards or bracelets to clients. Since Bell’s death, FCSS has offered only breakaway lanyards or bracelets.

“I want to commend the staff for what they did after the situation became aware to us,” said Shannon Boyce-Campbell, FCSS executive director.

Staff immediately notified all clients with the Lifeline lanyard, and recommended they be changed to breakaway cords as there was a risk of injury to the owners. The inquiry by Rosborough states that FCSS’s concern was for the safety of its clients. It details how FCSS staff members, Kimberly Saunders and Ethel McLellan, administered the Lifeline program and worked quickly to change to breakaway cords.

“Bell’s death sparked swift and significant action by the staff at FCSS. McLellan testified that their first concern was for Bell and the members of her family. Their second concern was prevention of similar occurrences. Saunders ordered 50 new breakaway cords for the pendant Lifelines,” explains Rosborough.

Investigations show that Philips announced the availability of breakaway cords in 2011 but did not proactively promote the new design because they feared “there was a possibility consumers would become concerned about a risk that wouldn’t apply to them or was rare; that they would be unnecessarily alarmed.”

Rosborough feels that was unfounded. His report concludes that FCSS immediately and proactively replaced the non-breakaway lanyards with no issues arising from its clients. He recommends Alberta Health Services and/or Health Canada working with Philips, to replace all non-breakaway lanyards to breakaway ones.

Boyce-Campbell said Bell’s death brought sadness to members of the organization and her hope was that the family could have some closure from the report.

In an interview with CBC, Bell’s daughter Stacey Greenwood, said had her mother used the wristband, she might still be alive. “She didn’t deserve to go this way.”

Her hope was that the inquiry could help educate others.

“What my sister and I both wanted, prevent it from happening for anyone else,” Greenwood said.

Boyce-Campbell says the Lifeline program has saved many people’s lives and this event was something staff never wanted to see. “It impacts our staff and it impacts how we do business,” she said.

Use of the Lifelines is something she feels is important for clients and they have the option of using the wristband or the breakaway lanyard.

“This is something we wish we could have prevented for Elizabeth,” she concluded.